INTERVIEWED BY: Clare Coulson
‟There are a few things I really like about knitwear,” says German-born Julia Mackenroth, 28, as she muses on her Esprit collection. ‟Firstly you are practically wrapping the body of a woman in a really nice way – with woven fabric it mostly has to fit to the body. With knit it’s not like that – whether it’s big or small the knit has a life of its own.”
‟Secondly I really have an influence on the fabric of the garment and I can make it do whatever I want. But also it feels timeless – I could even wear an old jumper from my grandma now – I might not wear it with a long old skirt but the knit is classic – it can last generations.”
All those facets seem to come to life in the designer’s capsule collection for Esprit – her chunky hand-knits in subdued colours like dark blue, rich red, cream and a touch of brown and yellow draw on classic Aran patterns and textures that have been brought up to date with oversized shapes – such as a cocooning long cardigan. ‟These stronger patterns and hand knit textures form the key pieces,” explains Mackenroth. ‟But I also did more basic machine knit designs too including a long fine knit dress in grey that you can combine with everything.”
The project has been a useful learning curve for Mackenroth – who first studied womenswear in Hamburg before moving to London in 2010 to start her MA at the Royal College of Art. ‟Our tutorials at college are not too critical – they mostly try to bring you forwards but with this it is a real collection and the product at the end has to be viable, they have to be able to make the garments,” she explains.
‟We had a lot of meetings and they were sometimes quite critical. At the beginning I had a cardigan that was very thick but with short sleeves and they would say, ›Which city will you wear this in?‹ It’s good to think about those things – to think about the reality of how your design is going to be worn.” Although Mackenroth is quick to add that she always thinks about wearability with all of her designs. ‟I always ask myself when I am designing ›Would I wear that myself?‹”
She has also enjoyed the process of seeing her original designs interpreted for the high street: ‟Some of myknits can be really chunky and if they are too thick it can be hard to translate the designs to machines. Butfrom what I have seen the knits have crossed over to the high street really well – Esprit are using slightlydifferent yarns but the samples are very close to my original samples.”
After an initial deliberation, Mackenroth also felt inspired by the project’s key sustainability theme. ‟I always feel like I want to have a very honest approach to things and at first I found the subject difficult – so I personalised it and asked where I had sustainability in my own life.” The answer, she says, was very simple: It’s the things that she keeps forever; the dress she wears over and over again, the sweater she has inherited from her mother that she once loved too, the piece that she buys from a second hand shop. ‟Even when it not new and I still keep it and keep it. It was then clear to me that it had to have a certain timelessness.”
Classic pieces were already a strong influence in her work – in terms of colour, pattern and materials – and so for this project she looked to traditional knitwear from Ireland and Scotland, including the colourful patterns of Fair Isle knits, and simply tried to translate them into more modern pieces. ‟It’s really the design and the material of something that makes it sustainable,” she adds.
‟I really enjoy knitting and working with my hands,” adds the designer as she talks about why she originally chose to move to London and study at the RCA. ‟I went to some other cities but as soon as I came here I could see that it was exactly what I needed. The expertise in knit here is not like other places – it was so exciting when I was offered the place.”
Mackenroth is determined to stick to her specialism in knit going forwards ideally at a house with a real reputation for interesting knitwear. ‟I’m quite fascinated by Rick Owens and his ideas about patterns are really interesting – sometimes I have to turn his pieces inside out and it will take me a while to work out how they did that and that’s really exciting.”